Scott Dixon (left) and Kyle Hurley (right) vie for the Norman Ward 8 seat. (NonDoc)
From left, Scott Dixon and Kyle Hurley are competing for an open Ward 8 seat on the Norman City Council in an election set for Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. (NonDoc)

Opened after redistricting moved incumbent Councilman Matt Peacock to Ward 2, the race for the Norman City Council’s Ward 8 will be decided Feb. 13 between two candidates who agree on the topic of turnpike expansion but disagree on how to handle homelessness and a proposed entertainment district.

The Ward 8 candidates are Kyle Hurley, a business development worker for Norman Regional Health System, and Scott Dixon, a National Guard veteran and management worker for an oil-field service company. Both candidates have run for the Norman City Council in the past. Hurley ran in Ward 7 in 2019 and was defeated by incumbent Stephen Tyler Holman. Dixon ran for city council in Ward 8 in 2022 and was defeated by Peacock.

A lifelong Norman resident, Hurley worked as a paramedic for 15 years before finishing his undergraduate degree from the University of Oklahoma and earning an MBA in health care management from Southern Nazarene University, according to his campaign website. Hurley then accepted a business development position at Norman Regional, working first as emergency department system manager and now as director of EMSSTAT, the paramedic department of Norman Regional.

Norman Ward 8

Ward 8 covers the northwest portion of Norman. From the northern city limits, boundaries mostly extend south from Indian Hills Road between 36th Avenue West and 12th Avenue East, with Robinson Street being the southern boundary. It also includes a small area south of Robinson Street between Westwood Park and Flood Avenue.

“I feel like I’m already ready to be a council member,” Hurley said. “I am interested in working towards solutions for a lot of things. I’m a big problem solver. I like asking questions and learning more about topics, so I do a lot of research. And at the end of the day, I want to be a good financial steward of the city’s resources.”

Dixon earned a degree in construction science from the University of Oklahoma and a master’s degree in energy management from Oklahoma City University. He previously served in the Army National Guard, according to his campaign website

“As a business development manager, my job is to find consensus and problem solve,” Dixon said. “I try to find solutions for my customers, their issues they’re having. My insights, problem-solving ability and ability to just work with anybody and everybody gives me a pretty unique skill set to bring to the council. Of course, during campaigning, we have to talk about any issues and how to fix them, and this and that, but the positives far outweigh the negatives in Norman, Oklahoma.”

Dixon is endorsed by the firefighters’ union and the Fraternal Order of Police, as well as Norman Mayor Larry Heikkila.

“I met with each of those entities a few times,” Dixon said.  “I’ve known the mayor for a couple of years.”

Norman Ward 8

Homelessness and affordable housing 

Dixon said he hears from voters that homelessness is the top issue facing Norman. He said people tell him that having a homeless shelter close to downtown causes disruptions for local businesses, and he said he would not like to see a permanent shelter.

He said some people have mentioned space near Griffin Memorial Hospital as a possible shelter location, but he said he has also heard from voters wanting to see it “as far north as possible.”

“People over kind of on the eastern edge of Ward 8 would like to see it on the west side of town. People on the west side of town would like to see it over on the east side,” Dixon said. “So, there’s not a real consensus on where it should go if there was one.”

Dixon said the city doesn’t do a good job of maintaining a temporary shelter, which he said is expensive and should be shut it down. Instead, he said he would like to find solutions for people to find affordable housing and stay in their homes. 

“It’s expensive to get people who are homeless, especially the chronically homeless, back into a permanent shelter, whereas it would be cheaper to help them not become homeless,” Dixon said. “I think that money is better spent that way and is cheaper in the long run.”

Dixon said he met with Cleveland County Sheriff Chirs Amason and was told that “people are coming from all over the nation because it’s out on their networks that Norman is a kind, friendly and welcoming place for the transient population.”

Dixon favors the idea of allowing more accessory dwelling units, which are smaller, independent residential units on the same lot as single-family homes.

“The zoning would have to change to allow for those ADUs to be built, basically in backyards and side yards,” Dixon said. “We need more homes of all price levels. Sometimes when the developers are coming in to talk about their neighborhoods or wanting to build, it can be pretty contentious.”

In his 15-year health care career as an EMT, Hurley said he has picked up many unhoused people dealing with medical conditions, giving him a chance to see where they sleep and have conversations with them. He said there is a misconception about people living on the streets.

“People will say that, ‘Oh, you just like seeing a whole bunch of homeless folks who are beating each other up and shooting each other, and IV drug use,’” Hurley said. “And we do see those things, but the overwhelming majority of times on the health care side we see people unhoused because of untreated, undiagnosed medical conditions. And so many people are not getting primary care on a regular basis.”

Hurley said the best solution for homelessness is to prevent homelessness from occurring. He believes the city should support a shelter being open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He said he believes most voters think the same, though he noted some people believe otherwise.

“I think it’s a city and county responsibility that we need to be working to get folks off the street,” Hurley said.

Tax increment finance district and arena

The development company University North Park LLC has proposed a $1 billion entertainment district west of 24th Avenue, between Interstate 35, Rock Creek Road and Corporate Center Drive in Norman.

The proposal, which includes the potential for at least one Tax Increment Finance District, has been made in partnership between economic development organizations, the City of Norman, Cleveland County and the OU Foundation. Team Norman showed plans in September for an 8,000-seat arena to host OU basketball games and gymnastics meets, a hotel, hundreds of housing units and a variety of shops, restaurants, bars and offices.

The arena would also be used for concerts, business expos, local graduations, rodeos and more. Both candidates say the proposal raises important questions.

“If we’re going to be reappropriating funds over the course of the TIF, I think there absolutely should be public conversation about it, at minimum,” Hurley said.

Hurley said he is not anti-TIF, but that he wants more conversation surrounding the topoic.

Dixon said he likes the idea of the entertainment district but knows voters have issues with the possible cannibalization of businesses from other parts of Norman. He said a solution could be having those businesses move into the TIF area.

“I would love to see the progress,” Dixon said. “I understand not wanting to move the basketball arena off campus. But the Lloyd Noble Center is barely on campus. I mean, nobody’s walking there from the dorms or from the Greek areas.”

Another OG&E franchise agreement looms

A veritable snake nest of power lines intersect on an OG&E pole in northwest Oklahoma City. (Tres Savage)

Next month, the City of Norman will hold a special election March 5 to take another swing at affirming an OG&E franchise agreement with the city for electricity infrastructure.

The city’s franchise agreement with OG&E expired in 2018, leaving Norman without a formal agreement with the utility on use of streets and alleyways for the provision of electricity. A new agreement was rejected by voters in January 2023, with 60.7 percent of those casting ballots opposing the renewal. 

Under the concept of an “implied contract,” OG&E has continued to provide electricity to city residents and businesses. Customers have paid a 3 percent franchise fee on their electric bills as they did in the past, and a judge recently dismissed a lawsuit challenging the legality of collecting that fee without a formal agreement.

Dixon said he doesn’t understand why Norman residents would vote against the agreement last time or in March.

“A car could crash into a power pole, and someone’s gonna blame (them). ‘Well, it’s just OG&E, they can’t keep the power grid up,’” Dixon said. “If everybody votes ‘No,’ it never gets passed, nothing changes. If it does get passed, it doesn’t seem like anything’s going to change.”

Hurley agreed that Norman citizens should vote “Yes” for the agreement.

“We’re not deciding if we’re going to use OG&E or not. We’re not deciding that we don’t like the rates, and we’re not deciding where their infrastructure is,” Hurley said. “But the constitution and the state Supreme Court, both say that in order for a utility provider to come in and do things in a city, that requires some folks at that table to say, ‘Yes, we are giving you permission to come into the right of way, we’re giving you permission to come into the easements on the back of your property. We’re giving you that permission so that we can do these things.’”

ACCESS Oklahoma turnpike program

The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority’s request for bond validation for its ACCESS Oklahoma plan, a process that is required before bonds can be sold to pay for the projects. ACCESS stands for Advancing and Connecting Communities and Economies Safely Statewide. Announced as a 15-year project, it proposes three new routes to complete the Oklahoma City outer loop and relieve I-35 congestion.

One of those loops would run east around Norman, a proposal that has drawn significant opposition from homeowners and environmental advocates. While supporters say the extension will be important for redirecting commercial truck traffic and other travelers around the OKC metro, opponents claim the turnpike expansion would eliminate more than 600 homes.

“It’s a bad, bad, bad deal for the landowners, homeowners that the turnpikes go over,” Dixon said. “I’m not a big fan of OTA. They used eminent domain to take some of my in-laws’ farmland. My father-in-law will not drive on turnpikes.”

He said his brother-in-law is a lawyer who fought OTA in the form of lawsuits for his family.

“It’s gonna happen. It’s so difficult to stop them. It’s time to plan for it,” Dixon said. “But it’s just a really unfortunate deal. There’s a lot of people that are retired, and that’s their retirement home, and they’re gonna get kicked out. And our housing inventory is so low. For one, they won’t be able to buy another piece of property like that. And two, they might not be able to find anything similar to what they’re getting kicked out of. So it’s just it’s a bad deal.”

Hurley said the reality is that Norman needs to prepare for the turnpike to be built. He said the citizens of Norman and the City Council “fought a good fight.”

“Do I like people having their property displaced? No. That sounds terrible,” Hurley said. “I feel like the fight has happened, and I feel like we lost. And that’s OK. It’s just that we’ve got other things that we can focus on.”